Sticks Can be Cleaner Than Gas

[Reprint of a letter to the editor of the Washington Post about the Oct 29th opinion piece of Marc Gunther, available here]

In his opinion piece on October 29th Marc Gunther did an excellent job researching the issue of how well improved cookstoves do what they purport to. He makes an excellent case: with respect to health, we can do better than we have. However, he paints with too broad a brush when he dismisses, entirely, the health impact of any and all improved biomass stoves.

In one of its most significant acts, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves created the “Clean Cooking Catalog” to make it possible to compare third-party stove data against the International Standards for Clean Cookstoves. This tool makes it possible to see (and compare) how “improved” stoves actually are with respect to emissions, efficiency, safety, and performance when boiling or simmering—the way cooks actually use stoves. If you were buying a car, wouldn’t you want to know how its gas mileage, safety, and design compared to others in its class, and measured against international standards?

The Global Alliance has made this knowledge publicly available and comparable in one convenient location about nearly 300 different stoves. And against these standards, our stoves have the best combined scores in the world of any stove using any fuel type--including LPG, ethanol, and biogas.

The WHO standards cited by Mr. Gunther are insufficient to capture the many dimensions of health, safety, and impact affected by improved cookstoves. But if one still insists on using them, our biomass stoves are still within their guidelines (50mg/min compared to 59mg/min), which makes Mr. Gunther’s statement, that biomass stoves don’t measure up to them, inaccurate.

Additionally, because our stoves are appropriate for institutions (or very large families, in places like Senegal), they do not face the adoption-rate challenges Mr. Gunther cites of household stoves. Institutions appreciate the amortization period of a durable, dependable stove that can save 87% of their fuel budget, and they do not soon abandon it—as Mr. Gunther’s article suggested was the fate of all biomass stoves.

I agree with José Andrés's response to Mr. Gunther that with respect to clean cookstoves, we should not let perfect be the enemy of the good; but, I'd like to add that there are biomass stoves that currently exist--ours included--that are approaching perfect.

I would like readers of Mr. Gunther’s column to be aware of these facts before reaching a final judgment regarding the cleanliness and safety of biomass stoves.


Adam Creighton, InStove